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1955 Chevy 150 - Man On Fire

Willie "Guardrail" Martin's 1955 Chevy 150 has been there and done that-from clipping animals on the roadways to melting motors at the defunct Orange County International Raceway

Thomas J. Lyman Jun 20, 2007
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While rummaging around in the Super Chevy vaults, we stumbled upon this previously unpublished '55 Chevy 150. Upon finding this gem, we were surprised it hadn't been featured in a previous issue.

The car we are speaking of belongs to Willie Martin and has been in his family since 1964, when Willie's father purchased it as an addition to the family business: Ed Martin Garage, of Riverside, California, which opened its doors in 1934. The car was bought for a measly $150 from a local farm, and was used as a "shop beater" for a few years. In 1970, Willie's father, John, offered the car to his eldest son, who politely refused. The offer was then put upon Willie, who recalled that he "gladly accepted and began the task of turning the plain-jane utility sedan into a high school hot rod."

Sucp_0706_03_z 1955_chevy_150 Rear_view 3/11

In its first incarnation, the car received a Chevy 327 small-block with 350 hp, and Martin kept the stock rearend. After high school, Martin upped the ante with a larger 350ci/400hp combination, and added a '57 Pontiac rear, with 3.23 gears and Positraction, all assembled by the owner himself. Around this time, he also had the rear fenderwells cut to resemble a Nomad he'd seen that was the same vintage (with some help from friend, and '55 Nomad owner, Tommy Hudspeth, who made a template for the body shop to work with). By 1975, Martin had saved up enough money to do the interior of the car, and sourced some materials from a '74 Cadillac to finish it off.

His (and the car's) first incident with a guardrail came in 1976, when the 150 hydroplaned on the way back from a San Bernardino car show, causing extensive damage to the left rear fender. It was during the rebuild that Willie happened upon an article mentioning Paxton SN60 blower kits.

Reminiscing back to a ride in a Paxton-equipped Avanti when he was 10, Martin knew that the 150 needed one of those kits. Now with a fresh paint job from the owner, and with the Paxton freshly installed, Martin and a couple friends headed East to the Street Machine Nationals in Tulsa. During a midnight high-speed run somewhere in New Mexico, trouble befell the 150 once again.

"We were doing like 110 mph," Martin vividly remembered, "and I noticed a dog up ahead. I slowed down to try and miss it, but it hit the left front fender." We won't go into the rest of the gory details, but again, the car needed some left side repairs.

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The year 1979 was an inauspicious one-it was the year Willie fried his first motor. While racing at OCIR at an SCTA event, he was running the engine a "tad on the lean side," and had a meltdown. It was then that he decided to park the car for a while, losing a bit of interest in it due to other things going on.

In 1983, he sold the '55 for $10,000. Ten short years later, a man in Missouri contacted Willie about his car, asking for info so he could restore the car back to its 1979 condition. Willie gladly obliged, and gave the man advice on certain parts of the rebuild. A couple of phone calls later, the man offered to sell the car back to Martin for $9500. Willie caught the bug again and purchased his old car for $500 less than what he had sold it for 10 years before. At this point his new old car began a second incarnation, one that is very similar to the way the 150 looks today.

Sucp_0706_08_z 1955_chevy_150 ZZ3_engine 8/11

Willie dropped in a Chevy ZZ3 small-block crate motor and incorporated an Edelbrock Pro Flow EFI system. He also added a newer Paxton SN2000 supercharger that puts out 5 psi of boost. Power goes through a Chevy TH700-R4 four-speed transmission, back to the same Pontiac rear the car has had all of its storied life. Martin figures the car makes about 475 hp to the rear wheels at 6000 rpm, and 400 lb-ft of torque at 5800 rpm, making it good for a best quarter-mile run of 12.99 at 110 mph. He made some small changes to the suspension, including Fatman 2 1/2-inch drop spindles and Monroe shocks in the rear. The '55 rides on Torq-Thrust Ds and Bridgestone rubber all around.

The interior features a '71 Ford LTD adornment, complete with Dove Gray leather upholstery. Martin sourced a Grant steering wheel, a B&M shifter, and some Custom Rod gauges to complete the inner-workings of the 150. The crown jewel of the interior is the dash, which was completed by Martin's friend Rod "Rotten Rodney" Bauman. Don't worry, we didn't even ask. However, Bauman is one of the main inspirations behind the exterior colors.

When work started on the project in 1993, Bauman mentioned that he would be more interested in working on the car if "someone lit it on fire." That's exactly what Martin did with the 150-he added some flames, and ignited the car.

The flame job, applied by Bauman, has been coined "Spontaneous Combustion." The blue is a shade that Martin calls "Medium Guardrail Blue," probably in reference to his strange, unhealthy magnetism to foreign objects (aka guardrails) while driving the Chevy.

With this rich and storied history, we're glad we finally had the chance to feature Willie's "hot" car.



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